The Redskins did not have a signature win in 2015 despite taking the NFC East title. They have a chance to get one right off the bat when the regular season opens a week from tonight.
The Pittsburgh Steelers come to town to start the 2016 season. They were 10-6 last year and they reached the divisional round of the playoffs before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos. They are among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl this year. It’s hard to call a season opener a statement game but this game for this Redskins team might qualify.
From the big picture view, the onus will be on the Redskins’ defensive backs in this one. Receiver Antonio Brown is the best in the business. Last year he caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had double-digit catches in five different games including 17 against the Raiders and 16 in December against the Broncos. If he blows up like that it will be hard for the Redskins to stay with the Steelers.
The Steelers will be without some of the weapons that helped them rank No. 3 in the NFL in passing yards last year. WR Martavis Bryant, is sitting out the year on a suspension. Longtime tight end Heath Miller has retired and Ladarius Green, the former Chargers tight end they signed to replace Miller, is on the PUP list to start the season. They have drafted some promising wide receivers over the past few years but we will have to see how Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates can do as they step up into bigger roles. Still, Brown alone is enough to make the Steelers’ pass catchers a tough group to deal with.
The Redskins may be able to get pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger but his uncanny ability to get rid of the ball even when surrounded by pass rushers could make it futile. The counter to that is for Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, and the rest of the cornerbacks to hold their coverage for an extra second, long enough to force Roethlisberger to dump it off or throw it away.
While Brown is around the Redskins won’t have to deal with the Steelers’ other main offensive weapon. Le’Veon Bell, who is a threat both running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield, will be serving the first of a three-game substance abuse suspension. DeAngelo Williams is a capable backup but at age 33 he’s not going to beat you single handedly.
Even if the defense plays well the Redskins will still have to score some points if they are going to come away with that big win. They should figure on putting up at least 30 points if they are going to outscore Pittsburgh. The Steelers put up 30 or more in seven of their regular-season games.
As the running game is loaded with question marks the Redskins will need to attack through the air. The Steelers ranked 13th against the pass according to Football Outsides’ DVOA metric and absent any major improvements or losses they again should be in the middle of the pack. Look for Kirk Cousins to throw at least 40 passes, more if they get behind.
Back to when the Steelers have the ball, one more thing the Redskins need to be prepared for is their no-huddle offense. In their third preseason game against the Saints Roethlisberger was in for two series and 19 snaps. Of those, 16 came without a huddle with Roethlisberger calling most of the plays at the line. The result was two touchdowns.
No doubt the Steelers will look at film of the problems that the Redskins had dealing with the Packers’ no-huddle during their playoff loss to Green Bay in January and run it until the Redskins can stop it.
The Steelers are three point favorites. They also are among the half dozen or so teams with the best odds of winning the Super Bowl. If the Redskins are up to the task next Monday they will have a big win under their belts.